Etsy: Recycling and Upcycling Yarn With Nikki Ross

Posted on by MK Carroll

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Rainbow_trout Twilight

left to right: Rainbow Trout and Twilight

Nikki Ross (my7kids on Etsy) hand-dyes yarns she recycles from sweaters when she isn't riding a motorcycle, roller-skating, or homeschooling her kids (she has 7 children and 2 grandchildren!) in the beautiful Smoky Mountain foothills. This 46-year old college graduate also bakes gourmet desserts, quilts, sews, reads, gardens, and knits. Nikki graciously took time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions about her Etsy shop and the yarns she recycles.

Nikki, when did you get started on Etsy?

I registered as a buyer in Feb. 2008 and started selling in May 2008.

What got you started on upcycling/recycling yarn and/or yarn materials?

I dabble in all kinds of crafts... I bake gourmet-style desserts, quilt, sew, read, garden, knit... I LOVE to knit.  I started exploring different fibers and was APPALLED at a couple things.  The first one was, the price of high-end fiber yarns!  With 6 kids still at home to feed and on 1 income, no WAY could I afford to indulge in mohair, cashmere, merino.  The second thing was, I came across a site on the internet, explaining how to re-use a sweater.  Like, Aunt Gladys gave you a darling knitted deer jumper... hmmm... what can you do with all that yarn?  I started noticing all the wonderful fibers hanging around the Goodwill and yard sales, disguised as sweaters.

Who/what inspires your work?
My husband of over 25 years, Richard, is always an inspiration and encouragement.  He lets me bounce ideas off him, inquires about what I am doing, how my sales are, whether my prices are competitive.  Also my kids are a terrific inspiration... because they haven't yet learned to fear judgment and failure, they come up with the BEST ideas.

How do you choose the themes for your yarns?
My oldest daughter (now married and a mom herself) is SO into literature... I guess she got that honestly... she suggests a literary work that we both love, with interesting characters and then there we are, on the phone talking about how this personality should be this color...  The next thing you know my stove is covered with dye pots, the air in my house is full of floating wool fibers from my swift spinning around and around with the latest sweater casualty, and my hands are multicolored and blistered from squeezing dye out of yarn...  LoL


left to right: "The Gruffalo" and "Early Dark"

What are your favorite parts of recycling/upcycling?
Hard to say if my favorite part is  "the Hunt" for suitable victims, or the actual unraveling, which is kind of soothing; or the coming up with ideas, or the dyeing, or seeing the end result, or being able to offer these wonderful, soft, luscious yarns at SO much less than they cost at the LYS.

But I kind of think it might be the coming up with ideas.  Because once I have an idea, the fiber takes on that character for me, and it is almost an obsession to get it into its yarn form and see it "come to life," dyed into beautiful new colors.

What are the most challenging things about recycling/upcycling?

The first most challenging thing is balancing what I want to do with yarn and on Etsy, with my time with the kids, their school, and order in our home.  It would be easy for me to just create, and neglect other things.  But I can't because the 2nd most challenging thing for me is space.  There are 8 of us living in a 1450 sq. ft. house and I have to make sure my creativity doesn't overtake us.  LoL!!

Oh and the 3rd challenge is, finding sweaters that have been gently cared for.  I recently took a trip and SO many of the sweaters I came across had been washed improperly, felted, etc.  It is a shame that we are so consumer-driven that we can treat what we have shoddily and then just cast it off and go buy more!

Anything else you'd like to add?

I am incredibly so thrilled to have found a marketplace like Etsy.  It is such a refreshing (and polite!) change from just anything else out there. For the remainder of 2008, all the profits from my Etsy listings (sales
less listing fees, CoMS, and mailing supplies) are going to the
building of a new Youth Center here in the Greater Knoxville area!

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Etsy: Upcycling and Re-imagining yarn with M.K. Lawrie

Posted on by MK Carroll

Go into the average thrift store and what are you almost guaranteed to find? Lots and lots of t-shirts. What to do with all those t-shirts? In Chicago, 31-year old Mary K. Lawrie turns t-shirts into yarn, and has been selling on Etsy as mklawrie since January 2008. She cuts shirts with a single, continuous cut, with carefully handsewn joins, for a smooth, even yarn. Weights range from worsted to bulky to super bulky, with worsted weight being cut from the lighter, thinner t-shirts.


worsted weight t-shirt yarn

What got you started on upcycling/recycling yarn and/or yarn materials?

I started using recycled materials when I was in college in part because I was a poor art student, and recycled materials were free. However, the more I work with recycled materials the more aware I am about what else I can do to create more sustainable practices in my life and daily routines.


left to right: Super-Bulky Red, Super-Bulky Yellow-Orange, and Super-Bulky Black

What are your favorite parts of recycling/upcycling?

It's like a puzzle. I love the challenge of finding new ways to reuse things.


worsted weight t-shirt yarn

What are the most challenging things about recycling/upcycling?

Limitations. By that I mean both setting limits on how much stuff I can save to use later, and feeling limitations on what I can accomplish.

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Mary is planning to increase inventory and provide a wider selection in her Etsy shop (M.K. Lawrie), where you can also find cozy handknit hats and scarves.

All photos in this blog post are copyright Mary K. Lawrie and are used here with her permission.

Recycling and Upcycling Yarn: The Adventures of Cassie

Posted on by MK Carroll


'Vintage Gingham' hand-dyed recycled bulky yarn

23-year old Cassie is a full-time graduate student in Illinois who started selling on Etsy about a year and a half ago. Her shop, cassiemarie, features recycled, handdyed yarns and handspun yarns plied with recycled yarn.

What got you started on upcycling/recycling yarn and/or yarn materials?

I’ve always been ‘thrifty’ in a sense, recycling and reusing things has always been second nature. When I started knitting and crocheting, I would use yarn from the thrift store, or yarn that had been handed down to me from someone else. Eventually I started spinning in addition to knitting, and of course dyeing yarn was the next rational step. I started dyeing with kool-aid, and then I moved on to using acid dyes. I’ve been taking apart sweaters for yarn for about two years now, but haven’t started to sell it until recently. I’ve been dyeing and/or re-spinning the recycled yarn in order to give it a second life, and a chance at being something beautiful once more.


left: baby sweater knit with recycled yarn (based on the baby sweater pattern from Last Minute Knitted Gifts, heavily modified); right:
Bold and Bulky Mini Cardi (pattern from the book Fitted Knits), knit with recycled yarn

Who/what inspires your work?

My grandmother Joanne first got me interested in crafting in general. She crochets and sews, and ever since I was a kid, she would teach me how to make crafts of all sorts. I remember her being so patient with me -- she would have me take mini sewing lessons, and take notes on how to thread the machine and so forth. I was always fascinated by how she could take a pile of plain looking fabric or yarn and turn it into something wonderful. She was also very thrifty, and whenever I would sleep over at my grandparents’ house on the weekends, she and I would wake up at the crack of dawn and go to garage sales.

Nowadays, I’m very inspired by the online community. Places like Etsy, Craftster, Ravelry, and Blogs are all excellent resources.


left to right: Cooties, The 80's, and Bleached Algae handdyed recycled yarns

What are your favorite parts of recycling/upcycling?

I really love the idea of taking something discarded or cast aside (sweaters) and rejuvenating it into something that is both useful and desirable. I also love the challenge of it all, and the ‘hunt’ to find the perfect sweaters to recycle. Most of all I love using the yarns I create, and seeing others use them as well!

What are the most challenging things about recycling/upcycling?

Like all things in my life – simply finding the time! I really enjoy spinning and dyeing, but I’m also a full time grad student, so I really have to make time to do it. Other than that, it has only been a positive experience!

You have such evocative names for your yarns - how do you come up with them?

I choose my yarn names with a lot of care. I don't come up with them until they are fully dyed and dried, and then I think about what the colors remind me of. So many colors in our lives are associated with certain moments. One of my favorites is the "vintage gingham" yarn, I specifically remember those colors being on a tablecloth that someone in my family owned. It may help that I'm a painter in 'real life,' and that my vocabulary for color is fairly wide. Painting and naming yarns is similar in many ways to painting and naming artwork.

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Future plans for the cassiemarie Etsy shop include listing larger ‘lots’ of yarn, vegan yarns, and knitted items. You can see more of Cassie’s work on Craftster and Ravelry (username cassiemarie), as well as on her blog, The Adventures of Cassie.Cassie's paintings can be seen at
all photos in this post are copyright Cassie Christenson and are used here with her permission.

Etsy: Upcycling and Recyling yarn with Molly Bachelor

Posted on by MK Carroll

Molly Bachelor is a 27-year old architect in Encinitas, California, who has been selling recycled yarns on Etsy since the fall of 2007. Her Etsy shop, C R A F T Y (the fiber rescue project), offers 100% recycled yarns, either unraveled from gently used, high quality sweaters, or handspun from mill ends and other scrap fibers.


left to right: Turquoise Coils handspun, GLAM (a) handspun, OKAPI handspun

Why did you start recycling yarn?

I've been a knitter for awhile now, and have always found yarn and fibers to be the best part of knitting (don't we all!). I started recycling yarn well before I began on Etsy, just doing a bit at a time to save the yarn from a favorite worn-out sweater or add to my stash. I'm always looking for opportunities to reclaim waste materials, so I was glad to eventually learn that there was a market on Etsy for this kind of yarn.

What inspires you?

I'm inspired by the limitless, open-ended possibilities of fibers. It's so much fun as a recycler, because the fiber arts are about working in cooperation with the individual fibers - whether it's twisting, weaving, knitting or whatever. The basic individual fibers are always still there, ready to be reinvented when their time comes.


recycled silk/cotton and cashmere, hand-plied together

What are the most challenging things about recycling/upcycling?

The nature of recycling is that you're working with found materials, so it can be limiting, although I'm always surprised at the variety and quantity of materials available. I generally don't dye my fiber and try to work with found colors, which is certainly a design constraint when spinning. But on the other hand, design constraints can really help the creative process.


left to right: Swamp Princess mill end handspun, Sky (wool/mohair mill ends plied with cashmere), and Elf (handspun wool/mohair mill ends)

Do you prefer to use a drop-spindle or a spinning wheel?

Oh, definitely a wheel. I never really got the knack of spindle spinning. I currently spin on a Fricke single-treadle.

Is there an overlap between your day job and your Etsy shop, or is the yarn an escape for you?

The yarn is definitely an escape from my day job. I love the non-structured simplicity of fiber design as a balance to the complexity and client demands of architectural design.

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all photos copyright Molly Bachelor, used here with her permission

Etsy: Upcycling and Re-imagining handspun yarn with Jes Mattingly

Posted on by MK Carroll


left to right: handspun newspaper yarn, Tokyo-plarn,
grocery bag plastic with cassette tape and paper beads, and grocery bag plastic

Jessica Mattingly ("Jes") is a 30 year old full-time clinical psychology doctoral student who uses her Etsy shop, Unique Expressions by Jessica Mattingly (An Eclectic Collection of Innovative Expressions), as her outlet. Jes lives in Chicago, where she spins upcycled yarns out of wool scraps, plastic bags ("plarn"), cassette tape, and paper.

When did you get started on Etsy?

I started back in November of 2005.

What got you started on upcycling/recycling yarn materials?

After I started spinning yarn, I became addicted to figuring out what other materials aside from wool could be spun. I started with plastic bags mixed with cassette tape, then moved on to tissue paper, and then on to newspaper. I've also worked with a fiber made out of recycled plastic bottles, but the fibers are really short and hard to work with.

Who/what inspires your work?

I'm the oldest of eight, and my siblings are a huge inspiration in my life. Also, the need for a creative outlet inspires my work.


handspun "scrappy happy"

What are your favorite parts of recycling/upcycling?

I love the challenge of working with something different. It's like a puzzle that needs solving. I also love the unique appearance of upcycled products. Each one is completely one-of-a-kind. I really enjoy watching the plastic or paper change and evolve as I spin it.

What are the most challenging things about recycling/upcycling?

Well, the materials aren't always the easiest to work with. Paper and plastic are not as flexible as wool. It can be really frustrating when something doesn't initially work, but once I've figured it out it becomes the biggest reward! Also, it takes a lot more time and energy to create something that is upcycled, because it usually involves a lot more prep.


handspun tissue paper

Do you have a preference for using a drop spindle or a wheel for your handspuns?

I started spinning with a drop spindle and used that for about a year before I moved on to a wheel. I now use a wheel for my regular handspuns, but when it comes to paper and plastic, I use a drop spindle. Those materials don't gather very easily around the bobbin of my wheel and they just don't spin up as tightly when I use my wheel.


handspun plarn

Jes also offers a plarn-making service and does custom orders. She blogs at Unique Expressions, where you can also vote in a mini-poll about what she's got in her Etsy shop and check out her Etsy favorites.

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all photos in this post are copyright Jessica Mattingly and used here with her permission